Pirates of the Arabian sea and other problems

Jan 05, 2012, 07:25 IST | Vikram Sood

The harrowing and tragic experiences of November 26, 2008 had reflected a failure of all our systems that allowed the three-day carnage.

The harrowing and tragic experiences of November 26, 2008 had reflected a failure of all our systems that allowed the three-day carnage. Two years later, in May 2010 by when our maritime alert systems should have improved, a discarded cargo vessel MV Wisdom mysteriously ran aground at Juhu beach. 

The ship had been towed close to the Mumbai coast past Bombay High and had narrowly missed hitting the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. While details of what happened have remained shrouded in mystery, there would have been some questions that the intelligence and security agencies would need to answer. For instance, what if the ship had carried some lethal cargo either radioactive, explosives, or CBW? Was it a Trojan horse whose occupants disappeared or was it just a dry run to test our responses?

Concerted Vigil needed: The alliance of terrorists from Lashkar-e-
Tayyba with Somali pirates poses a serious maritime security threat 
to India

For the past few years, the law and order on the high seas of the placid and commercial Arabian Sea has been deteriorating with Somali pirates colluding with the Shahbab terrorists from southern Somalia and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba of Pakistan. Piracy in the Arabian Sea has been coming dangerously close to the Indian shores
In January 2011, Indian coast guards aborted an attempted piracy attack close to the Lakshadweep while later in March there were two similar piracy attempts -- one about 600 nautical miles west of the Indian coast and another close to the Lakshadweep islands once again. Indian shipping interests have had at least 200 attacks so far from pirates.

Piracy and sea terrorism affect the security and commercial interests of major powers like China who seek to ensure continued supply of energy across the Arabian Sea. China has to take into account two choke points for energy imports -- the Strait of Hormuz or the Malacca Straits, which hurt China, India and Japan. India receives imports amounting to US $ 50 billion and exports worth US $60 billion across the Arabian Sea every year. The Strait of Hormuz connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and then to the Arabian Sea. 

About 15.5 million barrels of oil flowed through the Strait every day in 2009 and constituted about 33 per cent of all sea borne trade of oil, which was down from 40 per cent in the previous year. About 75 to 80 per cent of all crude exports were meant for Asian markets -- China, Japan, South Korea and India. It has been estimated by the International Energy Agency that by 2030 China will import 13.1 million barrels of oil per day up from 3.5 million barrels per day in 2006. About half of these imports come from West Asia, which will continue to grow in the coming decades. 

Almost due east from the Gulf of Oman is the Gwadar port on the Makran coast of Balochistan. About 550 km south west of the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea is the Gulf of Aden leading to the Suez canal; the southern coast line of the Gulf is Somalia, the home of present day pirates and terrorists. 

The Seychelles archipelago, where China seeks berthing facilities, is about 1,350 kms from Somalia and about 2,800 kms from Kerala. China has begun to make moves in Afghanistan and Iran as it sees itself as a successor to the US. Its geo-strategic interests in Pakistan are well known. Securing the seas is a natural prerequisite to ensuring uninterrupted supplies of energy for its factories. It is the triangle of Gwadar, the Strait of Hormuz and Seychelles that would be important to Chinese interests in ensuring a steady supply of energy. 

The pirates collect logistical data and raise funds for Al-Shahbab, in exchange for protection. The Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Al-Shahbab alliance would have serious maritime security issues for India and the two could operate out of Karachi more effectively just as the 26/11 terrorists did. 

Our long coast line is inadequately manned by counter terrorist or security details.  India has to get serious to protect its coastal interests and further afield protect the high seas -- never an easy task. Eternal vigil and strengthening pre-emption capabilities are the best ways of safeguarding against the threat from terrorism and challenges from other powers and their competing interests that would impinge on ours. Platitudes and declarations will not do. 

The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

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